Life might be difficult for a year or two, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.
On Monday evening I went to a dinner party in celebration of my host uncle’s birthday. It was exhausting. There were way too many French people there, all of them shouting questions at me at once. Someone asked me to explain Thanksgiving, and I was completely at a loss because I didn’t know certain key words like “celebration”, “Indian” or “pilgrim”. So my description of Thanksgiving sounded like this: “At the end of November, we eat all the day…We eat turkey, all the day, for to show thanks to when the original Americans have a party with some Europeans that discover America, and they get along well.” Someone else also asked me if we celebrate Christmas in America. And if I’ve ever tried mustard.
I found Thanksgiving one of the most difficult concepts to explain to non-Americans. Of course, even Easter is no piece of cake:
In the second half of this book of humorous essays, David Sedaris writes about moving to France with his boyfriend and learning French. Great observations about travel, living in a foreign country and learning a new language.
From “Make That a Double”:
In saying a melon, you need to use the masculine article. In saying the melons, you use the plural article, which does not reflect gender and is the same for both the masculine and the feminine. Ask for two or ten or three hundred melons, and the number lets you off the hook by replacing the article altogether. A masculine kilo of feminine tomatoes presents a sexual problem easily solved by asking for two kilos of tomatoes. I’ve started using the plural while shopping, and Hugh has started using it in our cramped kitchen, where he stands huddled in the corner, shouting, “What do we need with four pounds of tomatoes?”
People are often frightened of Parisians, but an American in Paris will find no harsher critic than another American.
Every day we’re told that we live in the greatest country on earth. And it’s always stated as an undeniable fact: Leos are born between July 23 and August 22, fitted queen-size sheets measure sixty by eighty inches, and America is the greatest country on earth. Having grown up with this in our ears, it’s startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are “We’re number two!”
On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down.” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ‘em.”
Back in New York I took full advantage of my status as a native speaker. I ran my mouth to shop clerks and listened in on private conversations[…] I kept an eye out for foreigners, the Europeans shopping on my SoHo street and the cleaning women who’d answer “Poland” or “El Salvador” when asked a yes-or-no question. I felt that it was my responsibility to protect these people, to give them directions they didn’t want and generally scare them with my kindness.